How St. Elizabeth Healthcare Is Working to Turn the Tide in Kentucky’s Fight Against Cancer

Kentucky has the nation’s highest cancer death rate at nearly 182 per 100,000 people. St. Elizabeth Healthcare is working to change that.

Northern Kentuckians no longer need to look across the river to find high-quality, personalized cancer care under one roof. St. Elizabeth Healthcare has been ramping up its cancer care offerings ever since its 2016 acquisition of Northern Kentucky-based OHC. And when the results of a community needs survey ranked cancer care as a top priority, hospital executives got to work, and this fall, opened a new $140 million comprehensive treatment center.

Doug Flora, M.D.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

“We have understood for quite some time that our region is overrun by cancer,” says Doug Flora, M.D., executive director of oncology. “And there was a definite unmet need.”

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, Kentucky has the nation’s highest cancer death rate at nearly 182 per 100,000 people. Kentuckians, Flora says, have been hit inordinately hard by high rates of lung and colorectal cancer.

St. Elizabeth hopes that, by allocating new resources to prevention, genetic screening, precision medicine, and individually tailored treatment plans, it will be able to put a dent in those staggering statistics. The new six-story building, which clocks in at 250,000 square feet, has been under construction since summer of 2018 and officially opened at St. Elizabeth’s Edgewood campus. “We’ve really been mindful of the patient experience from the ground-up,” Flora says.

That’s clear from the moment patients walk through the door. The first floor of the center is dedicated to what Flora calls “softer touches,” with spaces for holistic activities like yoga, meditation, art therapy, and kitchen demonstrations. Outside, a healing garden offers a place of respite for patients and clinicians alike. And to save patients an extra stop on the way home, the center features an in-house retail pharmacy for patients and caretakers to pick up medication and equipment.

Thanks to its affiliation with the Mayo Clinic, St. Elizabeth offers free telehealth consultations to patients looking for a second opinion, as well as special access to clinical trials that build on the hospital’s partnership with the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center.

The new center implements cutting-edge technology throughout with devices like a real-time locating system that tracks and manages the flow of patients, staff, and equipment through the building. St. Elizabeth hopes to use the system to enhance contact tracing efforts and keep patients and their families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disease prevention is at the forefront of the new cancer center, all the way down to the tiniest design details: Touch-free entry and exits, terrazzo flooring, virus-killing ultralight systems, and localized cough stations stocked with face masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues.

“This really is that intersection of love and science, where it’s cutting-edge clinical trials and a center for precision medicine and genomic health,” Flora says. “But it’s also a place where you can get acupuncture or massage or a one-on-one counseling session with a cancer counselor.”

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